Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Sketchbook Project, nearly one year in!

It's been a bit of an unsettled year, although that seems to be the norm these days!  haven't painted as much as I would have liked but there has been one project that really stands out, the Nature Sketchbook  Exchange Project.

Latest entry, sketchbook no. 8, work in progress in Doreen's book. Bracken and Lichens ( on hawthorn) from the W. Coast of Scotland, near Fort William. The decomposing bracken is very dominant in the landscape and I love that rich brown colour. The abundance of the lichens on the trees alters the colour of the trees, in places it's so thick you can barely see the branches at all. Lichens are indicator species for air quality, so it's obviously pretty clean in that part of the country. Hopefully I'll find a few hours to complete these pages before the year end.
It's fairly self explanatory as a project but for those of you who don't already know about it,  the Nature Sketchbook Exchange is basically a group of 16 botanical artists exchanging, and working in, each others sketchbooks,  we work on any nature based subjects of our choice - so by the end of the project we have work by every other artist in our own book. I'm currently on my 8th book ( including my own) so about halfway through and about a year into it come January! This fantastic project was initiated by my good friend Shevaun Doherty,  who also has one of the best botanical/ nature art blogs out there!
No. 7 Sketchbook. Black Rose hips for Frances' book, I found these in Bentilee,Staffs, near my old school. My first bit of work in my new flat (Nov, Dec). I spotted these hips on a routine drive to my daughter's house and pulled off the road to collect some, there were hundreds on the bush, so I didn't feel too bad about taking a few.
 After a year I feel as though I'm settling into the project and not quite so nervous about working in another artists book.  What's been really great is the luxury of getting up close to other artists work, which gives an insight into their working practice. Each artists identity emerges through their entries and everybody brings something different to the project.
Also being able to paint whatever I fancy painting with plenty of time is a luxery, there's never a problem finding something for a quick study and I always keep my eyes open, constantly scanning for the next subject! .....It might just be something I spot while on the way to the shops,  I often stop the car and collect a few fruits or find some interesting leaf or branch lying on the ground!  I add as little or as much as I want to each entry and some pages are more finished looking than others.

No. 6. Not many notes here because there wasn't much to say. This is a fruit branch from the Wayfarer Tree, collected from a car park in Germany for Claire's book. I just fancied painting with no preparation, in trial and error fashion. Painted at my daughter's house, I borrowed her dining table while she was out because I was in between moving at the time ( Sept - Oct)

In the past I  never used to keep a sketchbook and kept rough work in boxes and on bits of paper but in recent years I've been re-educated into seeing the benefits of keeping a good sketchbook.
In addition to the project, I now keep several other sketchbooks which act as a plant library or painting and drawing diary. It enables me to paint things that I might otherwise forget about or just not bother with, usually because of a lack of time. Sketchbook work doesn't require a huge investment in time, so I often paint flowers and seeds from my travels or just document plants thought the year along with personal notes, it doesn't matter whether they are finished or not. It's proving an invaluable resource and making notes helps with the botany too.  Sketchbooks remind me of where I was and what I was doing at a particular time....I remember where the plant was and who I was with....... and all the little things that were going on around each entry at that point in time.

No. 5 A change of medium, Graphite Clematis from mums garden for Sarah's book. Drawn at mum and dad's house (July, August)

All of the artists working on the project use the same type of book, the Stillman & Birn Zeta series, hardbound, 8.5 x 5.5 cm, smooth,  270gsm,. Previously I thought that there was no decent sketchbook paper, but this is a really great book! I've purchased several now, in different sizes. Initially it felt a bit different because I pretty much always work on Fabriano Artistico for everything but I got used to it very quickly and love it!
No. 4 Dying anemone and a dead bee resurrected! For Jarnie's book. This sprawling plant had seen better days, I found the bee dead Queen bee in the porch. Painted in my previous house shortly before I moved ( May, June) 
I have started to notice a pattern with my layouts, most of my compositions sprawl across the pages but the entries are changing and I feel more relaxed about no trying to produce finished pieces in the more recent books, they are much more like my usual study pages.
No. 3 Fox Grapes and grape hyacinth for Terri's book. I grew these plants in pots from the bulbs painted in my own sketchbook cover pages at the start of the project (see below). ( March, April).
 Hopefully, this time next year I'll be able to post the remaining images from the sketchbooks yet to be received. I'm currently waiting for Shevaun's book, no idea what to paint but might find inspiration in Ireland when I visit in January. 

No.2 Fritillaria studies for Lorraine's book. My first attempt at painting in another artist's book.....bit scary at first but soon get used to it. It's only a sketchbook so mistakes are part and parcel! I  used these as part of the preparation for the RHS show paintings which were exhibited in London during April.
If you don't yet keep a sketchbook, I hope that you'll be encouraged to do so. It really is a good for pracice and reference but also a great escape....particularly when life is turbulent! 

No. 1 Beginnings, my own sketchbook. Inside cover page in graphite is a drawing /doodle styled work from the corners of the grey matter! The first pages of bulbs seemed appropriate subject to start with. Great fun to do but a bit over the top with the graphite, also I forgot to spray it with fixative so doubt there won't be much left by the time it's travelled around.
Bulbs seemed suitable for the beginning!
This time next year the project will be coming to an end and can't wait to see all the beautiful works from each artist in my book.... It will be something that I'll always treasure!


  1. Brilliant blogpost! I'm so honoured to be part of such an inspiring group of artists. Thank you

    1. Shevaun, Thank you for inviting me to be involved!- it's been brilliant. Always excited to get the next book ....... And yours is the next one for me :)

  2. Every time I read one of the blog posts on here I feel so privileged to have been invited to take part in this awesome project. A great write-up Dianne, and as ever... your work is fabulous!

    1. It's been a treat to be involved for all of us and your work is beautiful Terri :)

  3. Really enjoyed seeing all,your entries in your sketchbook.
    Such lovely work and a great blog post.

  4. Wow. This stuff is too nice! Inspires my feeble efforts.

  5. Inspired and inspiring Dianne. I've never kept a sketchbook and honestly feel like starting one after seeing both your beautiful work and that on facebook from others in the group. Brilliant!! Great post - thank you!!

  6. This blog is very informative and inspiring. I use a sketchbook, but if larger work I've done it on separate paper. I think I will have to take several leaves out of your book Dianne- as well as the other ones I've taken out! Do you use the thinner or thicker paper in the Still an & Bern books? I have both, but felt I ought to use up old sketch books first! I think they will remain unfinished as this paper is good to use any media on - at least WC, CP and pen & ink or graphite. Thanks again Dianne.

  7. Thank you Gaynor. I use the zeta heavier weight (270gsm) sketchbook I've got a few sizes up to A4. The one for the project is bound size 5.5 x 8.5 in. Before this I just made up my own books from the same paper that I paint on, Fabriano Artistico. I still do that but working in a sketchbook is more like a research library/ diary... Contains things that might become paintings. It seems to bring a bit of discipline, so that's never a bad thing for me.